Chris Kanich: Privacy on the Modern Web

Billions of people use the Internet every day for all sorts of activities, from shopping to gambling to dating to academic research. For the vast majority of users, a browser is the primary interface between them and the world wide web. Yet the very fact that browser features are so ubiquitous makes them extremely vulnerable to privacy and security compromises. Not only browser history, but all sorts of data such as browser size, location and time of day could become extremely invaluable to third parties, whether they are Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Apple or more nefarious users. Companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla have tried to combat consumers’ privacy concerns by introducing private browsing modes, but it seems that even these may not be entirely foolproof ways of surfing the Internet anonymously.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Kanich, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to discuss the privacy and security issues raised by the modern web. We start by exploring the history of browser features since the mid-’90s, from hypermedia to JavaScript to the fully integrated browsers of today. Then we move onto the privacy and security vulnerabilities created by ubiquitous code such as that found on Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Finally we investigate a range of legal and ethical implications, from the EU’s directive on the ‘right to be forgotten’ to monitoring terrorism online and even the security complications of cloud computing.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Eckersley, P. (2010) ‘How Unique is Your Web Browser?’ in Atallah, M. J. and N. Hopper (eds.) Privacy Enhancing Technologies: Proceedings of the 10th International PETS Symposium. Cham: Springer.

Snyder, P. et al. (2016) ‘Browser Feature Usage on the Modern Web’, Proceedings of the 2016 Internet Measurement Conference.

Kristy Leissle: The Cultural Politics of Chocolate

From its mysterious origins deep in the rainforests of Central America to the gluttonous foodstuff we all know and love today, chocolate (not to mention its parent cocoa) has been an integral part of human society for centuries. The Aztecs used cocoa in rituals and as a form of currency as well as for nourishment. In early modern Spain, Catholic theologians argued over whether drinking chocolate could be seen to break the ecclesiastical fast. Chocolate pioneers in the nineteenth century promoted it as an alternative to alcohol, in keeping with the temperance movement that was all the rage at the time. Even in the modern world it has provoked strong emotional perceptions, from innocent treat to sexualized indulgence to junk food. Chocolate is a symbol of global inequality, cultural mores and social anxieties about health, religion, morality, sexuality, race and gender.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Kristy Leissle, a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, to discuss the cultural politics of chocolate. We talk about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the present, the politics of chocolate branding (using some rather tasty examples) and the future of the chocolate industry in an age of global climate change. Hopefully after listening to this episode you will never look at a chocolate bar in the same way again!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

These are images of the chocolate bars discussed during the show, for reference:

Further Reading:

Allen, L. L. (2009) Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Beckett, S. T. (2008) The Science of Chocolate. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Coe, S. D. and M. D. Coe (2013) The True History of Chocolate, third edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Forrest, B. M. and A. L. Najjaj (2007) ‘Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain’, Food and Foodways 5(1-2), pp. 31-52. [See also the rest of this journal issue.]

Jones, C. A. (2013) ‘Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43(3), pp. 623-653.

Leissle, K. (in press) Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Mintz, S. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking-Penguin.

Norton, M. (2006) ‘Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics’, American Historical Review 111(3), pp. 660-691.

____ (2010) Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Richardson, B. (2015) Sugar. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Robertson, E. (2009) Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed Books.

Satre, L. J. (2005) Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Domhnall Iain MacDonald: The Biology of Pain

Pain is arguably one of the most central features of human experience. Many of us routinely experience pain in our lives, from the smallest cut to the most traumatic injury. Chronic pain, too, poses a serious challenge to our public health institutions. Philosophers have even argued that pain is morally bad: John Stuart Mill, for one, famously described happiness as “pleasure and the absence of pain”; the purpose of government, Mill thought, was to maximise the former and minimise the latter. Yet some individuals spend their entire lives feeling absolutely no pain at all and scientists are hoping to discover a breakthrough painkiller through analysing the genetic mutations that make people unable to feel pain.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Domnhall Iain MacDonald, a PhD student in neuroscience at UCL, to discuss the biology of pain. Among other things, we cover the biological usefulness of pain to humans; whether non-human animals feel pain and the ethics of testing painful sensations on animals; and the latest frontiers in clinical pain research.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Hiyasaki, E. (2017) ‘End Pain Forever: How a Single Gene Could Become a Volume Knob for Human Suffering‘, Wired, 18 April.

Kiesel, L. (2016) ‘All Pain is Not Equal‘, Relief, 28 June.

Sutherland, S. (2016) ‘Pain Research in Animals: Why Do It, and What Can It Tell Us?‘ Relief, 10 January.

____ (2017) ‘Taking Aim at New Pain Drugs‘, Relief, 19 January.

Brian Earp: The Ethics of High-Tech Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy

While prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation is still widespread throughout the world, in recent decades laws have been enacted in various countries banning so-called conversion therapy: (typically) psychological attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to exclusively heterosexual. Advances in neuroscience in the not-too-distant future could mean that conversion therapy could be delivered in a ‘high-tech’ manner, for example by administering a drug that could rewire the neurochemical signals in our brains.

This possibility brings with it a raft of ethical issues and today on The Provocateur I talk to Brian Earp, Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University, to broach these issues. We discuss the possible harms of conversion therapy and whether neuroenhancement-based conversion therapy in particular produces any distinctive harms, explore arguments in favour of the practice and touch on some policy implications.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here: 

Part two is here: 

Note: In the broadcast I mention a second episode with Brian (discussing female and male circumcision), but unfortunately this has been postponed to next month due to scheduling issues. Watch this space!

Further Reading:

Cruz, D. B. (1999) ‘Controlling Desires: Sexual Orientation Conversion and the Limits of Knowledge and Law‘, Southern California Law Review 72, pp. 1297-1400.

Earp, B. D., A. Sandberg and J. Savulescu (2014) ‘Brave New Love: The Threat of High-Tech “Conversion” Therapy and the Bio-Oppression of Sexual Minorities‘, AJOB Neuroscience 5(1), pp. 4-12.

Gupta, K. (2012) ‘Protecting Sexual Diversity: Rethinking the Use of Neurotechnological Interventions to Alter Sexuality’, AJOB Neuroscience 3(3), pp. 24-28.

Haldeman, D. C. (2002) ‘Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy‘, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33(3), pp. 260-264.

Levy, J. T. (2005) ‘Sexual orientation, exit and refuge’, in Eisenberg, A. and J. Spinner-Halev (eds.) Minorities within Minorities: Equality, Rights and Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Okin, S. M. (1999) ‘Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?’ in Cohen, J. et al. (eds.) Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sandel, M. (2007) The Case Against Perfection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shidlo, A. et al. (eds.) (2001) Sexual Conversion Therapy: Ethical, Clinical and Research Perspectives. New York, London and Oxford: The Haworth Medical Press.

Tozer, E. E. and J. A. Hayes (2004) ‘Why Do Individuals Seek Conversion Therapy? The Role of Religiosity, Internalized Homonegativity, and Identity Development‘, The Counseling Psychologist 32, pp. 716-740.

Benjamin Boudou: Hospitality, Immigration and the Dilemma of Frontiers

Immigration seems to be on the minds of many liberal governments in a post-Brexit and post-Trump world. The European Union is still grappling with the consequences of the Mediterranean refugee crisis; France is riven between adhering to laicité on the one hand and respecting the wishes of Muslim minorities on the other; Australia is facing its own refugee dilemma, particularly in the light of the abuses documented at the Australia-run detention centre in Papua New Guinea; and of course anxieties abound in the United States regarding the status of Mexican immigrants. How liberal democracies should respond to the (perceived) threat of immigration is a question that has vexed moral and political philosophers in recent decades, in response to a planet increasingly united by globalisation and yet also increasingly fractured by the realities of globalisation.

This week on The Provocateur, I talk about immigration with Benjamin Boudou, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity and editor-in-chief of Raisons politiques, the premier political theory journal in France. We explore his current research which aims to reinvigorate the concept of hospitality in political theory, specifically applying it to the contexts of immigration and frontiers. We also discuss briefly the current situations in Britain and France, as well as how to resolve the divide between analytic and continental approaches to political philosophy.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Benhabib, S. (2004) The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carens, J. (2013) The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Derrida, J. (2000) Of Hospitality. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Fine, S. and L. Ypi (eds.) (2016) Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goodin, R. (2007) ‘Enfranchising all affected interests and its alternatives’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 35, pp. 40-68.

Kukathas, C. (2012) ‘Why open borders?’ Ethical Perspectives 19(4), pp. 649-675.

Miller, D. (2016) Strangers in Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nick Harding: The Ethics of Consensual Nonmonogamy

Conventional wisdom dictates that nonmonogamous sexual relationships are morally bad, even if they are consensual. Today on The Provocateur, I talk to Nick Harding, a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Southampton, to discuss his case for why the conventional wisdom is wrong. We explore common objections to consensual sexual nonmonogamy – for example, the threat of falling in love with another sexual partner, the risks of sexually transmitted infections, the challenges of multiple parents – and why in Nick’s view these objections all fail. We also touch on the ethics of sexual infidelity and Nick’s argument for why in certain circumstances it may be morally permissible (if not morally required) to cheat on your partner.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here:

Part two is here:

Part three is here:

Further Reading:

Anderson, E. (2012). The monogamy gap: Men, love and the reality of cheating. New York: Oxford University Press

Buss, D. (2016) The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. Basic Books

Easton, D. and Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures, second edition. New York: Celestial Arts, Berkeley

Fisher, H. (2017). Anatomy of love: A natural history of mating, marriage, and why we stray. New York: Norton & Company Inc.

Taormino, T. (2008). Opening up: Creating and sustaining open relationships. USA: Cleis Press